As we approach 2013 and the sesquicentennial of the chartering of Boston College, we also come nearer to the centennial of the college’s move from the South End of Boston to Chestnut Hill. The relocation plan that Rev. Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, revealed in 1907 took time, but Boston College began to hold classes on University Heights in 1913. When students arrived, Gasson Hall, which was known simply as the Recitation Building, was the only building constructed.The development project was still in its nascent stages, but the progress that had been made was already astounding. Support for Gasson’s proposal flourished from the start. Within months of announcing his hopes for the college and the need for financial support from alumni and friends, Gasson secured the property on which Boston College now stands. The land once belonged to Amos Adams Lawrence, a mill owner and philanthropist, whose family had previously demonstrated support to the college.
Back in 1853, when anti-Catholic protesters challenged Rev. John McElroy, SJ, in his attempt to purchase land for the founding of Boston College, the male members of the Lawrence family signed a petition supporting McElroy. Although the petition ultimately failed and McElroy was forced to find another site, the connection between the Lawrence family and the progress of the college continued. The first University Historian, Rev. Charles F. Donovan, SJ, traces this relationship in one of his Occasional Papers, “Boston College and the Lawrence Family.”
Although the original founding of the college met strong resistance from a sizeable anti-Catholic group, the plan for relocation and expansion in 1907 received a highly favorable response. Students and alumni alike mobilized immediately to raise the necessary funds to begin building. References to fundraising events littered the pages of the Stylus. Imagine the excitement of attending the first Boston College Garden Party, held in June of 1908 on the grounds where an entire campus was yet to be constructed. Or imagine 1909, when – in the midst of 30,000 attendees – Father Gasson broke ground for the first of our campus buildings, the Recitation Building which would later bear his name. Considering Donovan’s estimate that there were fewer than 600 living alumni around that time, we can take the size of the crowd as an indication of the far-reaching interest in Boston College. Only with support from Bostonians with and without prior ties to the college could Gasson’s plan be realized. If you’re interested in learning more about the early days of Boston College, you can gain access to the Stylus by microfilm in the Microforms/Government Documents area on the first level of the O’Neill Library. The University Historian’s Occasional Papers and Father Donovan’s History of Boston College: From the Beginnings to 1990 are both available at the Burns Library and are also available online.
- Trista Doyle, Burns Library Research Assistant & B. C. Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English